On Monday afternoon, motorsports officials announced the world’s first high-speed, head-to head autonomous race during CES 2021 in its new digital format. The special event, called the Indy Autonomous Challenge, will feature more than 500 university students competing to win the top prize of $1 million.
“Over the last century, we’ve been known most for the Indianapolis 500 and the brave men and women, 33 of who start here every Sunday after Memorial Day on a 500-mile journey to cross the yard of bricks to be the first driver to win that,” said Doug Boles, President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS). “In October, there will be university students that will do the same thing. They will get to celebrate just like the many race car drivers have done over the years. They will cross the yard of bricks to win the Indy Autonomous Challenge. Today, our pioneer, Roger Penske, is really excited to be a part of the IAC. We can’t wait to see the best and brightest minds from around the world compete at the IMS.”
Over 30 university teams have applied to participate in the 20-lap competition in late October. They come from 14 U.S. states and 11 countries. The winning team will go home with a $1 million prize. A full simulation race is scheduled for May 2021.
“At Energy Systems Network, our focus is on building partnerships to accelerate technology commercialization and solve real world problems,” said Paul Mitchell, President & CEO, Energy Systems Network (ESN) and co-organizer of the IAC. “That’s exactly what the IAC seeks to do…harnessing the power of prize competitions to attract the best and brightest minds from around the world to further the state of the art of safety and performance of automated vehicles. Self-driving cars are the next grand challenge of technology. The response to this call to action has been remarkable. The promise of autonomous mobility will have leaped forward forever.”
All of the self-driving race cars will be built on Dallara-style chassis and will run on Bridgestone/Firestone tires. The race cars will hit the track without drivers. They are expected to achieve speeds of up to 200 mph. The race cars will be controlled by sensors, Lidar and software.
In Nov. 2019, Roger Penske purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the entire NTT IndyCar series.
“This event has found a fitting host, we think, at the IMS,” said Mark Miles, President & CEO, Penske Entertainment Corp. “We’re very proud to support the IAC and we are particularly excited to see many of our partners join in this effort. At IndyCar, we believe the future lies in connectivity and data. Competition and connectivity empowering data discovery. While race car drivers are absolutely fundamental to our sport and always will be, we expect the IAC’s intense competition to provide valuable data and information that helps us improve our series and maintain our edge.”
Miles added: “We’re thrilled that 500 of the best and brightest students from around the world will be contributing to this effort. We hope, over time, to see some of them find their way into the IndyCar series. They make this competition world class and allow us to showcase the ability of IMS and the state of Indiana to take the spotlight on the global stage. The IAC represents a groundbreaking step forward in the autonomous vehicle industry.”
Event organizers consider the IAC to be a step forward from the DARPA Challenge organized by the U.S. Department of Defense. The goal was to build a car that could drive itself. In 2004, the first autonomous vehicle competition was held from Barstow, Calif. to Primm, Nev. in the Mohave Desert.
“We’re very active in the autonomous world working with OEMs and the major racing series in the world,” said Stefano dePonti, CEO & General Manager, Dallara USA. “In the United States, we design and supply chassis for the IndyCar series, IndyLights series and IMSA. We have an important technical partnership with NASCAR. We are working on delivering the first autonomous vehicle chassis within the next month or so. Surely the IAC represents a great engineering challenge.”
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built in 1909. “It’s purpose was to test new technology,” Boles explained. “In 1909, it started with hot air balloon racing and then motorcycle rating and then ultimately car racing. In 1910, the Wright Brothers brought their airplanes here and flew at the IMS.”
The Indy Autonomous Challenge (IAC) is scheduled to take place on Oct. 23, 2021 at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
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